Venerable Satoko Kitahara

“The Mary of Ants Town” (1929–1958)
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Satoko Kitahara Black and White Photo from Wikimedia Commons

Despite her upbringing in an affluent Tokyo suburb, Satoko Kitahara shared with other Japanese the trauma of war. In the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo, her country’s defeat, and the disillusioning exposure of militarist lies, she suffered a profound crisis of faith. Her spiritual journey led her to seek baptism as a Catholic. From then on, she wrote, “I experienced a desire amounting almost to a necessity to ‘serve,’ which seemed to be a natural accompaniment to being a follower of Christ.”  

After reading an article about a shantytown of homeless squatters not far from her home, she found her opportunity to serve. The residents of this so-called Ants Town supported themselves by collecting recyclable rubbish. Satoko began to volunteer her time among them, offering lessons to the children and organizing excursions. But eventually she was challenged by one of the community leaders. He mocked the “charity” of Christians who simply offer handouts or donate their extra time. Had not Christ emptied himself to take on the life of a slave? Stunned by these words, Satoko determined to become one with the ragpickers, living among them and joining them in begging for trash.  

She was revered as “The Mary of Ants Town.” But such loving service carried a heavy price. Already weakened by tuberculosis, Satoko died on January 23, 1958, at the age of twenty-nine. In 2015 she was declared venerable.  

“I feel my path to Heaven will be a long and painful one. I do not intend to work just for my own eternal salvation, closing my eyes to the people around me.” —Venerable Satoko Kitahara 

© Liturgical Press.

Robert Ellsberg

Robert Ellsberg is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Orbis Books and the author of several award-winning books, including All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time; Blessed Among All Women; and The Saints' Guide to Happiness.

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